Refined: Why Youth Ministry Matters More than ever

Graeme Thompson

8.1.2021 | Youth & Children, Refined

Graeme Thompson, PCI Youth Development Officer, reflects on the particular importance of youth ministry even if it looks very different in this season of church life.

Struggling to make sense of it

GT_Youth_Jan2021-(1).jpgSome people ‘get’ art. They can immediately spot what’s going on and what the artist was trying to convey. For the rest of us, we can look at a painting, a sculpture or any piece of art and just scratch our head. Until someone who does appreciate it tells us to take a few steps back and helps us look again. Then we see it differently and understand the things we missed because we were just too close. Right now, life is a bit like that. We see the mess, we see blurred colours and shapes, but not always patterns that make sense.

When it comes to young people in our church we may think there is not much going on for now and it’s just messy, but if we take a step back, it looks different. If you think now is not a time for youth ministry, perhaps taking another look will help you see this is a time when youth ministry matters more than ever. Why?

It matters because youth ministry is not programmes and organisations

There is no doubt youth ministry is a huge struggle just now. At best youth leaders have been able to innovate and adapt in light of the constantly changing circumstances. For many, it has been much more challenging and doing anything feels like a huge success – and it is! Even though what we are doing with young people looks very different than what we are used to, that does not stop it from being youth ministry. The once familiar activities and organisations were never the point of youth ministry, they were always just the method. The means are different now, but the end is the same - engage with young people in the name of Jesus and point them to him. So, well done to those who struggle on to innovate, adapt or just do something. Even if it looks messy up close, from heaven it looks beautiful.

It matters because young people need us more than ever

In 35 years of youth work I can never remember a time when young people needed adults more than they do today. The relentless impact of this brutal pandemic hits them every day and they have lost so much. Experiences that are every teenager’s rite of passage which they will never have. Academic, sporting and creative achievements that they will never realise. Friendships that have struggled to endure. A sense of loneliness and isolation that was reported by nearly half of 16-24 year olds before Covid came along and made them self-isolate, learn remotely and socially distance. The impact on their mental health is yet to be fully known, but is significant. And what of how this has impacted them spiritually?

It matters because we are still commanded to make disciples

There is a wonderful picture of Jesus on the road to Emmaus in Luke chapter 24. His disciples’ whole world had turned upside down – all they thought they knew was gone and they were undoubtedly struggling to make sense of it. Jesus didn’t give them a book, deliver a talk or even speak first. He walked the road with them, helping them navigate their situation in light of Scripture. At its heart, that is what youth ministry in general, and discipleship specifically, is all about – walking the road with young people and helping them work out how to live in light of God’s Word. That is still our job, so God bless those who continue to walk with young people in these tough times. There is value in what you are doing because it really matters.

It matters because young people are essential to the church

Everything in church looks different these days of course, but where do our young people fit now? We have always needed our young people as a core part of church and we would be poorer without their voice, perspective and gifts. How are we continuing to communicate this to young people especially in this season? Perhaps this is a time when ‘token gestures’ are not so token but can say a lot. A gift of a Christian book, an acknowledgement of young people in our worship services, whether in-person or digital, or a simple warm greeting can say so much.

It matters because God is still at work

God is not limited, even by a global pandemic, but is still at work in the lives of our young people. What if, for some at least, this turned out to be the most fruitful time of growth in their Christian lives? What if adapting to do one programme in depth turns out to be much more productive than the several things we used to do? What if, in the middle of all the mess and change, doing small things with a clear purpose turned out to be part of the amazing picture God is painting, that we cannot yet see?

Of course, this is no time to be negative or critical, nor should we ever feel guilty for anything we have not been able to do or anything we cannot do now. Quite the reverse. Be positive, seek what God is doing and find simple, significant ways to partner with him.

A mother recently praised the youth leaders in her church because they, “didn't forget about the young people, but instead realised they needed their grounding and support from the church even more and they were there with their love and support at such a strange and anxious time for them." That’s it. This is why youth ministry matters more than ever. Be encouraged, and God bless you as you are used by God to paint beautiful pictures.

Graeme Thompson is the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s Youth Development Officer.

This blog is part of the digital programme series, Refined, to help move our denominational conversation on from what was needed to initially respond to the Coronavirus pandemic, to seeking God’s leading and guiding for this next season of church life together.

Visit the Refined hub here.

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